Let me say this before I start. I’m totally in favor of doing good things for others. Doing for others, who aren’t as fortunate as ourselves, is one of the golden rules for enhancing human relationships. I call it charity.
I’m aware some of you might say it’s not a case of being fortunate. It isn’t luck; you have to work pretty hard to get where you want to go. But, the basic notion I’m talking about is if you have two loaves of bread why not share 10 percent of them with someone else? It just makes sense. It’s the common thread connecting words such as generosity, compassion and caring for fellow human beings.
But, there is another side to this story. It’s the potential harm that can come when you inordinately attempt to help someone.
For example, on one of our adventure travels, my wife and I went to New Guinea, which was and still is a country ill prepared for tourists. It’s severely lacking in infrastructure and a difficult place to travel. During our trip, we learned, years earlier, missionaries had ventured there to convert and help the natives.
On most of the islands we visited, the villages, though primitive, were clean. Despite the fact there were pigs, chickens and dogs roaming the area, there was no evidence of garbage or waste matter. People cleaned up around their homes.
The missionaries noticed the primary daily chore of the women and children was to walk, often at great lengths, to a water hole to wash their person and their clothes, and to carry buckets of water to the village. It was a ritual that was strenuous and time consuming.
In the missionaries’ eyes that task could be alleviated by drilling a well in the center of the village, which is what they did. As a result, water became readily available. What they failed to realize, however, was in this patriarchal society, women were subjugated to the whims of their husbands. They had little time alone and little opportunity to speak their minds openly. With one exception, when they went to the distant water hole, it was an opportunity for them to gather and to freely share their thoughts and complaints.
With the water close by, the women lost the opportunity to gather with friends and to honestly communicate. As a result, they wound up living their lives more restricted than prior to the missionaries’ gift; supporting the notion that NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNSHISHED.
More pertinently, let’s consider Ethan Couch, the “Affluenza” teenager, who was, by all indications, a very fortunate young man. He was born into a successful family to parents who both were in their second marriage. By most accounts, he was a pampered child, who never learned the meaning of “no.”
His father was primarily involved with his business, while his mother was an overindulgent caregiver, who excused or ignored her son’s transgressions and disregard for authority, rules and regulations.
By age 15, Couch was driving without a license, using drugs and abusing alcohol. By 16, he had his own car and lived alone in a large house, several miles from his parents, where he partied without supervision. Encounters with police authorities were excused, overlooked, and resulted in no punishment.
Despite being on probation, he continued to party and one evening while driving drunk, he killed four people and sent others to the hospital. He was tried and again received probation. However, months after his sentence, postings of his partying and drinking permeated the Internet.
His mother, fearing his probation would be revoked, took him to Mexico, where they hid to avoid his serving 120 days in jail for violating probation. His mother now faces up to 10 years in jail, and Couch, after being extradited from Mexico, could be retried as an adult.
Let me share a story I heard years ago that sums it all up. One day, a young man went to a welding shop seeking employment. The owner of the shop had just lost his son in an auto accident. In his attempt to compensate for his loss, he hired the young man and treated him as a surrogate son. As a result, he forgave and tolerated behavior he would not have accepted from any other employee.
Unfortunately, the youngster, by virtue of his youth, frequently exercised poor judgment and rebellious behavior. Despite constant reminders never to weld without wearing welding glasses, the young man dismissed the warning. As might be expected, sparks flew in his eyes, his corneas were burned and, in spite of being rushed to the hospital, he permanently lost his sight.
That evening, when the shop owner came to visit, he said, with tears in his eyes, “I am so sorry. I now realize I let you get away with too many violations of the rules because I loved you like my son. That’s the reason I didn’t fire you.”
The young man’s response was, “I wish you hadn’t loved me that much.”
There are numerous examples of a similar nature, but I feel these three are sufficient to say that in the course of dealing with children, employees, spouses and friends, we have to learn to set limits and boundaries, and to demonstrate that all behavior has consequences. Feeling sorry, making excuses and rewarding unacceptable behavior helps no one. They only provide people with a false sense of entitlement that teaches them they can get away with behaviors that will ultimately undermine their future success.
When you think about it, oftentimes it’s those individuals who grow up facing hardships without special privileges or indulgences who are the persons who do best in the world. Why, because at a young age they learned how to cope with adversity, to be resilient and to rebound after disappointment or failure.
The rule of thumb is, “Love and care for others, but don’t do for them. Help them to do for themselves. Help them to recognize and overcome their shortcomings and to appreciate their strengths, because long term, too much help only serves to hurt.”